Real Sceptic

Ventures into scepticism

The Perfect Example For Why I Moderate My Comment Sections

30th October 2013 10 responses
Referee by Avinash Kunnath

Referee by Avinash Kunnath

For both my website and YouTube channel I have some very strict moderation rules. For both the rules say you need to stay civil, you answer questions when asked, provide citations (or give them when asked), don’t make claims that are demonstrably wrong, don’t spam, and the comment has to be on-topic. If the comment you place doesn’t abide by those rules you will either get a warning from me or if it crosses the line too much I’ll just remove it.

Repeated violations will lead to me banning you on my YouTube channel or my website. With the intermediate step on my website that all comments from you will go into my moderation queue before they appear. These rules are quite strict compared to what is the norm on most websites, but I’ve found them to be necessary.

When I just had started writing for this website and creating my videos I was very lenient towards commenters. Everyone could say anything in whichever way they wanted. This almost always resulted in very unpleasant and unproductive exchanges. My frustration with people not engaging me in an honest and civil way was what lead to me creating the rules that I now have.

Of course I still get the odd commenter that doesn’t want to play within those rules, and it’s they that complain almost exclusively about my moderation. But most commenters like the environment that I create with this strict policy. It’s common that they defend my policies because in my comment sections you can discuss freely without all the vitriol that’s so common.

I’m bringing all this up because of what happened after Wotts said the following in his blog post ‘Why it must be frustrating‘:

There are many aspects of the climate change/global warming debate that are clearly frustrating for many of those involved, but one might think that fundamentally everyone is interested in the same thing: understanding the science associated with climate change. It may not be true, but it’s possible. Given this, maybe one should expect climate scientists to hide their frustrations and try and engage openly and decently with “skeptics”.

The problem I have with the possibility that deep down everyone is interested in the same thing, is that I regularly encounter things that make me seriously doubt that some really have any actual interest in understanding the science.

[...]

The point is, some things are just wrong and should be acknowledged as wrong. [...] I think engaging in discussions about climate science and global warming is fascinating. There is much we can all learn. However, I do find it incredibly frustrating engaging with those who seem willing to consider ideas that are trivially shown to be incorrect. If I’m frustrated imagine how actual climate scientists feel. Maybe we should give more credence to those willing to engage without letting their frustrations show. On the other hand, maybe showing a little more frustration may help some people to realise that some of what they think has merit really doesn’t.

Wotts seems to be where I was a couple of years ago when I started to realize that there are those that can’t be reasoned with, or won’t stay civil no matter how nicely you ask. So far Wotts has rarely intervened in his comment sections, and when he did it was very light handed.

Because of that his comment section has the tendency to derail badly, as happened in the comment section in the blog post that I just mentioned. The person responsible for this was Shub Niggurath who first dismissed the scientific consensus about global warming with the reasoning that experts can be wrong and have been wrong in the past. Which then started a discussion on what a scientific consensus is and if you can trust experts. This already frustrated many commenters as Shub often danced around questions and points made by them.

But it really turned ugly when Shub started defending claims made by Murry Salby, some commenters actually started asking for Wotts to ban Shub. What happened was that Shub defended a point made by Murry Salby that the rise in CO2 might not (all) be anthropogenic. Shub argued that Salby might have a point. But it’s something we know is wrong and is laughably easy to find out for yourself.

Because of this a lot of commenters tried to get Shub to answers the question if he thinks the rise in CO2 levels is natural or not, and eventually Shub answered the question “Do you think that the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations since the mid 1800s could be natural?”:

Short answer: I don’t know.

Slightly longer answer, following up with Salby’s talk: If Salby is correct, it is possible.

For the purposes of your browbeating, you can take the “I don’t know” as a “Yes”, I don’t mind. They are both equivalent in that I have not accepted the anthropogenic rise of CO2 as offered by the IPCC et al, as gospel.

In other words Shub doesn’t know enough on the subject to pass judgement on the veracity of Salby’s claims and he rejects what experts say that do have the necessary knowledge. He also didn’t bother trying to learn more when others pointed out that what Salby was saying isn’t correct.

I hadn’t engaged yet in those two discussions but after reading that comment I did. With me stating my amazement that Shub isn’t aware about what underpins our knowledge about the cause for the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels. And of course Shub responded by defending Salby again, which led to me saying this:

Shub, you don’t understand the topic and make a point of not correctly understanding questions.

The question Wotts asked you was about the rise in CO2 being anthropogenic or not. This is not about claims Salby makes in his presentation. It’s about if you understand the science behind the cause of the rise of CO2. When you said “I don’t know” you admitted that you don’t have the knowledge to check if Salby’s claims are correct.

In other words what you’ve been doing is just dance around this issue and give us only rhetoric. That’s why I can’t take you serious because [you] show a lack of interest in checking if you have a point. To quote myself from one of my videos:

scepticism doesn’t start with the viewpoints and claims of others, and being sceptical about those does not make you a sceptic. Being a sceptic starts with examining your own viewpoints, the positions you hold, the claims you make and the quality of evidence you use for those. If you are not doing that [...] you can’t call yourself a true sceptic.

You aren’t a true sceptic and the only thing you’ve been doing here is frustrating exchanges. As such I’ll move on to more interesting exchanges where people actually care about getting the correct answer.

Which nicely sums up my opinion of Shub after the behaviour that I’ve seen.

The derailment Shub caused was quite sad to see, as a lot of interesting folks comment on Wotts’ blog. It tends to be a fun place where you get judged on the merits of your arguments and the evidence you use for them. Wotts often uses those exchanges as inspiration for blog posts and as a tool to learn more about the science behind anthropogenic global warming. But this didn’t happen here as Shub completely derailed the exchange.

With the frustration Wotts was already showing I wasn’t surprised that after a couple of days he published this:

This is really just a post to say that I’m clearly going to have to introduce some new rules with regards to comments. There are a couple of recent comments threads that I’ve moderated badly and that have ended up completely off topic and in which the discussion has been far from constructive. I haven’t quite decided on precisely what I should do. I also think I may take a few days to think a bit more about what I hope to achieve with this blog. It really wasn’t intended to be anything other than a place for me to simply express my thoughts with regards to climate science. It has attracted more attention than I had anticipated.

[...]

As I said, I haven’t quite decided precisely what I should do. You can expect a slightly harder line and a bit more snipping of comments. I’m going to expect more evidence from commenters if they wish to discuss more controversial aspects of the debate. I’m also going to explicitly acknowledge a bias. I’ve been doing this long enough to have a good idea of who understands the science and is able to make constructive comments, and who doesn’t. I also understand the science quite well. It is much more settled than many would like us to think. So if you’re going to take the standard “skeptical” line, expect me to be harder on you than on others. You might think that lacks balance. I disagree. Being allowed to present scientific ideas for which you have no real evidence is not balance.

[...] If you think I’m going too far with this, also let me know. At the end of the day, though, this is my blog and I get to decide what I think is appropriate. As usual, relevant – and constructive – comments welcome.

Wotts nailed it with this. Comment sections are there for constructive criticism and valid points, not about providing a platform to factually incorrect statements. Or allowing those that are unwilling to understand the science involved to derail discussions.

But I think that what Wotts is doing doesn’t go far enough. He should use stricter rules than the ones he said he’s going to use now, and write those rules down. I have my rules spelled out in my Community and Discussion Guidelines and Site Terms and Conditions of Use. He also should keep records of original comments if he snips parts from them or if he removes the entire comment. Although it’s up to him to figure out what works for him and his website.

I have no doubt that Wotts will figure this out, and when he does his comment sections will remain a joy to read and engage others on. I just wish more websites would do this. As it is one of the things we need to do to prevent misinformation from spreading so that ideology doesn’t defeat reason.

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